UK politicians rebuke HSBC as top Asia executive backs China

HSBC is not the first global institution to back Beijing after a year of political unrest in Hong Kong.
HSBC is not the first global institution to back Beijing after a year of political unrest in Hong Kong.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Several British politicians criticised HSBC's support for China's sweeping proposed security legislation for Hong Kong, soon after the global lender's top executive in Asia publicly showed his support for Beijing.

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg, the governing UK Conservatives' house leader, said London-based HSBC may be more closely "aligned with the Chinese government than Her Majesty's government".

Conservative MPs Tom Tugendhat and Neil O'Brien slammed HSBC, with the latter suggesting that Britons should use another institution for their banking.

Earlier, Liberal Democrat parliamentarian Alistair Carmichael wrote to HSBC's chief executive officer, saying the bank's move had caused alarm in the House of Commons.

HSBC isn't the first global institution to back Beijing after a year of political unrest in Hong Kong, but it's in a precarious position. Most of its earnings are generated in Asia, but its headquarters is in London. That too is the case for Standard Chartered, which also endorsed the proposed security law that critics say will violate the "one country, two systems" principle Britain and China agreed to when the territory was handed over in 1997.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesman, Mr James Slack, said the UK is "deeply concerned" by the proposed new security law in Hong Kong, and didn't address HSBC and StanChart specifically. Johnson has said he will give as many as three million residents of his nation's former colony the chance to seek refuge in the UK if China presses ahead.

In his letter to HSBC CEO Noel Quinn, Mr Carmichael, chairman of the UK parliamentary group on Hong Kong, referred to the petition signed by Asia chief Peter Wong in support of a move that critics say will diminish the city's freedom and autonomy.

"You will not be surprised to learn that it has caused significant concern in the House of Commons, that a senior official of your bank should have taken a stance that would potentially contribute to a more unstable business environment," Mr Carmichael said in the letter, which was seen by Bloomberg News.

A spokesman for HSBC in London declined to comment on the letter, which was sent to Mr Quinn on Wednesday (June 3).


Mr O'Brien, a Conservative backbencher, suggested on Twitter that the bank's customers should close their accounts in protest. "If you bank with HSBC, you are with a bank that is backing Beijing's repressive new security laws, designed to snuff out freedom in Hong Kong. Other banks are available," he wrote.

In another tweet, Mr Tugendhat wrote: "I wonder why @HSBC and @StanChart are choosing to back an authoritarian state's repression of liberties and undermining the rule of law? Where does this fit in their definition of corporate social responsibility?"

Earlier on Wednesday, Hong Kong's Legislative Council passed a controversial law banning residents from disrespecting China's national anthem, a Bill that had sparked physical confrontations between rival lawmakers.